A Christendom Question

This is a little noodling, no great answer, if you’ve got it please tell me…

I put Christendom in the title knowing that anyone my age or younger probably doesn’t know what that means. The last people who might have actually experienced it in a deeply meaningful way are my parents age. So why am I using an archaic term? Because I have a real question. Because we deal with the remains.

First a definition. This is my understanding of Christendom. A person, just by the fact of being born in a society, maintains the idea that they are a Christian regardless of actual beliefs, practices or worship. Once upon a time Christendom was strong enough that even without any observable worship or practices, everyone knew what the church’s professed beliefs were. Abraham Lincoln is the perfect example. Looking at his practice (especially as a boy and young man), there is no christian practice. But, reading any of his speeches, and calling out the 2nd inaugural or the House Divided Speech, you can’t but hear a product of Christian formation. As Christendom fractured or became weaker, that formation became less to the point where today you have self-professed life long Christians who not only haven’t been to service for over a decade, have probably skipped prayers or bible reading for most of that time, and couldn’t tell you what “a house divided” refers too in the life of Jesus. For many John 3:16, or a decent paraphrase, would be tough.

Now the pastoral practice question. In Christendom, things like baptisms, weddings, pastoral care (which is sharing the cross and the comfort of the resurrection) and funerals were assumed. Unless the person went out of their way to say “I don’t believe” or “I opt out” the church handled these things. In a post-Christendom society I think it is clear that such things will be “opt-in”. (Why are baptists faring better? Because the believer’s baptism and the testimony story are clear “opt-ins”. That is not a statement on the theology, but the pragmatics.) In the world of my kids (and I would say myself) one will have to say “I believe, teach and confess Christ” or “I opt in”. And this is made clear by one’s worship and practice. In Christendom the collective practice could carry the slacker. Not in post-Christendom. I say this because, does it make sense to marry someone saying “this marriage is picture of the communion between Christ and His Bride the Church” when the bride and groom don’t really believe that or know what it means? What kind of meaning or comfort is there in the cross and resurrection if one does not understand them or confess them? (It might take a death bead to move head knowledge to heart and kindle faith, but if there is no head knowledge to begin with?) I ask questions like those and largely think they are rhetorical. There would be no purpose in them. The death bed call would retain a purpose of that 11th hour call to the vineyard, but those are not as often as we do not have an art of dying anymore. What we have is a call from the mortician to see if the church would hold a service, because, well, because why? Pastors just a little older than I would still follow old advice on all these occasions. You do all that come as a chance to preach the gospel. And that is perfect Christendom thinking. It assumes that everyone who is present has enough understanding of the law and their place against it that the call to repentance and offer of grace is meaningful. These occasions allegorically represent the early, third and sixth hour calls to the vineyard. But what if you don’t know the way to the vineyard? Or if you’ve rejected the vineyard in favor of some other work or just loafing? Do such calls have any meaning other than witness against?

The pastoral question becomes, I think, how do you move from the automatic yes to something that offers the chance to believe and confess? And how do you do that when there are still many who maintain a Christendom understanding that everyone is a Christian by default?

As I said, just some noodling. Trying to get to good questions.